Nougaty Goodness

by Dwight Newton

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Hardly a Silent Night to be Had

by Dwight Newton, Nougat Magazine, December 2006

As we approach the holidays, many of us think of music. There are the traditional Christmas carols that we like to pretend are still sung by carolers door to door or by families near the fire. There are the bell-ringing Santas (or more commonly some guy with an ID badge) in front of every store and the incessant Muzak within. The TV networks drag out classic movies of the season with their great songs for yet another attempt at manufacturing nostalgia. And there are the obligatory annual performances of the Nutcracker ballet and Handel’s Messiah. The abundance of holiday entertainments is a bit overwhelming, but I propose you try to connect with the spirit of the season and its music more deeply.

Try actually listening to some music. Instead of letting the seasonal din wash over you in a mind-numbing flood, be selective. Choose one or two quality seasonal concerts and sit for a couple of hours actually listening to the music as though it was new to you. I did this a few years ago when I went to an orchestra concert in Chicago where they were performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which starts with the most famous four notes in all of music. I have heard the entire symphony performed live maybe half a dozen times in my life. But this was the first time I really paid attention. I realized that the reason it is such a famous work is that it’s a terrific and exciting piece of music.

This is true of many great works that have been usurped for crass commercial purposes. When I first heard a full performance of the Messiah oratorio years ago, I was astounded by the beauty and depth of the epic musical experience. Everyone knows the “Alleluia Chorus” from Messiah, but not that many have actually heard a good chorus and orchestra perform the full Christmas section of the piece, much less the entire piece (which was actually written as an Easter oratorio reflecting on the life of Christ). The choral and solo writing is truly glorious and worth hearing done right.

The options for quality holiday listening are plentiful in Lexington. Here is a concise list of recommendations:

Collage: A Holiday Spectacular. Saturday, Dec. 2, 7:30 PM and Sunday, Dec. 3, 3:00 PM. UK’s choral Collage program is aptly named for the great variety of alternately fun, sentimental, and deeply moving music performed by the six UK Choirs, directed by Jeff Johnson and Lori Hetzel, plus the UK Steel Band, UK Saxophone Quartet, Lexington Singers Children's Choir, Alluring Handbell Ensemble and vocal and instrumental soloists from the UK School of Music. Johnson has built a reputation for putting on highly engaging programs (as exemplified by his recent successful concerts by the UK Men’s Choir, performed in both Lexington and San Antonio last month). He arranges a seamless show with a huge variety of music that is a sensory delight. This has become a major Lexington tradition. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for students. Singletary Center for the Arts: 859-257-4929 or

Tis' The Season Holiday Concert with the Lexington Brass Band. December 3, 4:00 PM. The LBB is one of Lexington’s best kept secrets. It consists of the top college and university faculty and professional musicians from throughout the Bluegrass area. This holiday concert is sure to put you in the Christmas mood. Tickets are a mere $5 and are available at the door. Centenary Church, 2800 Tates Creek Road, Lexington. Information: 859-858-3877.

The Nutcracker. December 8* and 9* at 8:00 PM, December 10* at 3:00 PM. Also December 15 at 8:00 PM, December 16 at 1:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and 17 at 3:00 PM. (*Shows featuring the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.) The Lexington Philharmonic and the Lexington Ballet Company perform their second set of joint performances of the season's most beloved ballet. Three fully staged performances with orchestra will be presented and four with recorded music. It is important to support the Ballet, especially with a live Orchestra. It is becoming increasingly rare to see ballet with live music. But if you can’t get tickets for those performances, don’t let it stop you from seeing one of the others. All performances feature professional lead dancers including Sarah Smith, from the American Ballet Theater, and principal dancers from the prestigious Ajkun Ballet Theatre (New York), including Juan Carlos Penuela (a former soloist with Dance Theater of Harlem), Darren McIntyre and Jennifer Grapes. Lexington Opera House. Tickets: $22 to $32 for the performances with orchestra, and $19.50 to $27.50 for the others.  Student discounts are available. Ticketmaster. Information: (859) 233-3535.

The Kentucky Christmas Chorus, December 12 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, is caroling on a grand scale. The Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers and dozens of area choirs will lead the singing as thousands of people get together to sing all the traditional carols along with some new ones. Not recommended as a quality listening experience, but it’s great if you like a rousing sing-along. Doors open at 6:00 PM; the singing begins at 7:30 PM. Parking and admission are free. (859) 258-3123.
A Jazzy Holiday Concert with the Bluegrass Area Jazz Ambassadors (BAJA). December 13, 7:30 PM. Swing into the holidays with this free concert. BAJA is comprised of musicians from the community, both professional and amateur, and students from the University of Kentucky Jazz Studies Program, with Artistic Director Miles Osland, and Musical Directors Raleigh Dailey and Mark Clodfelter. You’ve seen the 18-piece big band at Ecton Park and elsewhere. This fun concert celebrates the new CD release called "I'll be Home for Christmas," by BAJA and Lexington native and Broadway star Laura Bell Bundy. As of this writing they were still waiting to hear whether Bundy would be able to be here for the concert as she is in rehearsals as the lead in the upcoming Broadway production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” But this should not stop you from coming to the concert for a swinging good time. Singletary Center for the Arts. No tickets or reservations required. Information: Information: 859-257-4929.
Messiah. December 15, 8:00 PM. Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lexington Singers. This is probably your best option for experiencing this great work. Soloists are Jeanne Marie Lucas, soprano, a native of Lexington now working from Boston, with performance degrees from Northwestern University and the Longy School of Music; Sherri Phelps, contralto, a native of Morgantown, Kentucky residing in Lexington where she has completed all but her dissertation for her DMA from the University of Kentucky after having received her Masters from The Juilliard school, and her Bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University; William Compton, tenor, who began his music studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and is presently pursuing a Master of Music degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music; and Eric Brown, bass-baritone, a native of the Washington, D.C. area, who won the first Alltech Opera Scholarship Competition last year and is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Kentucky. Tickets are $25 to $42. Singletary Center for the Arts: 859-257-4929 or
Holiday Celebration at Victorian Square. Saturday, December 16 - all day, but with a special evening concert beginning at 7:00 PM which will be simulcast over the web. A last-minute entry in the holiday gala madness is this event sponsored by Alltech and UK Opera Theatre as they present a full day of holiday activities, concluding with an “old fashioned evening of song” in Victorian Square. Planned are activities beginning with the morning Farmers’ Market, and continuing with children’s activities (including a visit from Santa Claus) and performances from local school choirs and music groups. The Evening of Song begins at 7 p.m., featuring professional soloists and orchestra singing selections from Messiah followed by holiday carols for all in a sing-along. Limited numbers of tickets will be available at no cost (first come basis) from November 27 -December 16 or until they run out. Tickets will be available at Joseph-Beth Booksellers and select stores of Victorian Square. Visit for a schedule of events. Victorian Square, Downtown Lexington. 

A Handefull of Christmas Delights. Monday, December 18, 2006, 8:00 PM.
Join us for a Lexington tradition of over 25 years. This year's Handefull features the usual broad program of music from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras, including some new twists old favorites. Tickets at the door: $10 general, $8 seniors, $5 students. The Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel, 2025 Bellefonte Drive (off Zandale), Lexington.

-Dwight Newton is a musicologist and is the Marketing Coordinator for the UK School of Music. His web sites are at and